An unprecedented road trip from Assam to Meghalaya and Mizoram turned out to be a heady mix of serenity, sanguinity and spontaneity
“I have booked you on a flight to Guwahati,” said Puneet, my friend, over phone, “And from there we shall be on a road trip across the Northeast right up to Mizoram.” Unbelievable, I had thought to myself then. With bomb threats and terror most of the time, this trip would never be possible. And yet, it started taking shape. I landed at the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport on a humid afternoon to be greeted by my travel partners. And therein began my fascination with the topographical wonders of the land of the Seven Sisters, of which I was to explore three – Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram.
Dotted by hills, the city of Guwahati appeared quite like any other. It was later, when we decided to explore the city, that the noise, the bustling, the slow crawling traffic, the non-hurried pace of life, all began to unfold. Amidst all this, the saving grace was the quietly flowing Brahmaputra. The serenity of this unfathomable river remains mystical.
On our way to Tezpur the next morning after Kamkhya Temple, the drive in the gypsy began to get beautiful by the kilometre. The plains were spread in a lush green cover and there were no vehicle besides ours. There were strict instructions to not stop anywhere in between (and that meant to not even stop for pictures) and to maintain speed. The occasional huts and thickets of bamboo trees around them were a sight. The open expanse of vast green during the monsoon had wrapped the entire land in a tender fresh hue.
Even as I shut my eyes to capture the immense beauty in my mindscape, the almost magical moments were cut short by the abrupt breaking of the vehicle. Heavy spiked chains were spread on the road at the entry point to Tezpur and then at every short distance throughout the city. A bomb had exploded in a vegetable vendor’s basket just a few minutes before and men in olive greens manned the city, guarding every nook and corner. But the tranquil surroundings of the army mess, the piping hot dal served for dinner and the neat, cool rooms, more than made up for the day long drive.
A quiet, quaint little town, Tezpur has hardly any shops and it appeared to be sparsely populated. As we approached the Dah Parbatia temple, the ruins at first appeared nondescript. The ASI protected monument with sculpted images of goddesses Ganga and Yamuna on its gates with garland in hand and the Shiva linga in the main sanctum stood on a raised platform amidst the silent greens. From there to Agnigarh and the heat had begun to take its toll. The site of romance between Usha (daughter of asura Banasura) and Anirudha (grandson of Lord Krishna) was simplistic and minimal with a panoramic view of the Brahmaputra. A a cool drink from the tiny refreshment centre atop the hillock felt good. As per the planned itinerary, the road trip would now divert towards Mizoram. As we moved from Tezpur back to Guwahati and towards Shillong, the drive became a bit tiring. As the gypsy sped along the NH 40, the nip in the air grew strong and soon Shillong appeared in full view with distinctively flatter hills as compared to the high and mighty mountains in Uttaranchal and Himachal. The army guest house in Shillong provided much warmth with its artistic woodwork and old world English charm.
The next morning was cold and cloudy. We first went to Ward’s Lake, where red lotus bloomed in abundance and then the Rhino Heritage Museum which was all about the history of Shillong; and soon we were speeding towards Silchar. The countryside changed from hills to plains to little hills all along this route. We were also now in a safer zone and taking pictures became easier. When I got off to click the tribal woman as she collected the gladioli, she smiled when she saw the camera in my hand. We were now on NH 44 and Jaintia Hills soon welcomed us. The neatly manicured tea plantations came in full view on both sides of the road. The plains thengave way to rivulets and mountains thickly covered with dense forests with not a single barren one.
And then came a point on this highway from where you got a view of Bangladesh. Suddenly the boundaries ceased to exist. What borders are we talking about when we can see one country from right across our land? All along NH 54 (that connects Aizawl to the rest of the country through Silchar), the lone vehicle in hills with a winding road in the middle of a thicket, did become a bit scary at times. And the hairpin bends seemed unending with a few enchanting sights – a wild gladioli field in the middle of nowhere! The six hour long hill drive had the head spinning and the body tiring. So much for a road trip, I thought. The sun veiled the huge mountain dotted with houses even as the clouds played peek-a-boo in the clear blue sky. Deafening silence greeted us. The beauty of Aizawl was captivating.
Stuffed paranthas with butter made for the perfect late lunch in the verandah and as evening began to descend, the chill forced us inside even as mist enveloped the hills from all sides. What struck me about the kaleidoscopic markets in Aizawl city was that the shops were all, entirely manned by women. Even the security at the mall comprised only women. And not a single readymade clothes shop for women had trial rooms! “Where can I try this on?” I asked. “Right here”, said the woman at the counter. The matriarchal set-up was as intriguing as insightful. At the vegetable market you had everything from pulses to spices to veggies and fruits. And of course, creepy crawlies! Of all kinds, variety, shape, sizes, being sold by the kilo. Most women were dressed in the traditional attire and smoking. A pretty young woman in Levis’ puffed away a Marlboro nonchalantly while selling kidney beans. This could happen only in Mizoram, my friend said.
Later that evening, as I ventured into the verandah, shawl tightly wrapped around, I could hear choir singing in the hills. Music was the lifeline here. The next morning it rained and grew very cold.
Forced to stay indoors, we feasted on the immense beauty of the hills with a bowl of Maggie noodles and coffee as I wondered whether I would ever come back to this lovely side of my country.